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The History of “The Man Box”

Two leaders in the field of men’s work made “the man box” the globally recognized term it is today

In 2012, in my capacity as Senior Editor for the Good Men Project, I edited an article titled “Escape the Act Like a Man Box” by Charlie Glickman. In his opening paragraph, Charlie wrote:

Kivel’s refers to the of a narrowly defined set of traditional rules for being a man. These rules are enforced through shaming and bullying, as well as promises of rewards, the purpose of which is to force conformity to our dominant culture of masculinity and to perpetuate the exploitation, domination, and marginalization of women and people who are queer, genderqueer and transgender.

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Educator, writer and activist Paul Kivel

In the early 1980’s, Kivel, Allan Creighton and others at the Oakland Men’s Project gave birth to this powerful central pillar of men’s work. They developed the in their work with adolescents in public schools around the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1992, Kivel documented their workshop process in his book Men’s Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart. It was here that Kivel published his act like a man box workshop, graphics, and everything we have come to define around the term.

In Kivel’s own words:

In the mid 1990's, Tony Porter, the founder of A CALL TO MEN, was doing men’s work in Rockland County, New York, as well as serving as the director of an alcohol and drug treatment program at Nyack Hospital. At that time, a local service organization, Volunteer Counseling Services, invited Paul Kivel to speak. Porter states it was then that he first heard the phrase “the act like a man box.”

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Tony Porter of A Call To Men

Over time, Porter, who was working with populations of men in penitentiaries and other challenging spaces, determined that “the act like a man box” language would not work with these populations.

“Paul was on it, no question about that. He was on it. But the way he was saying it would not work for the men I was talking to. So I took that term, act like a man box, and I shortened it down to the man box.”

In 2010, Porter recorded his now famous TED Talk titled A Call to Men, which to date has been viewed over 2,600,000 times on the TED site alone. Porter drove the man box into global public awareness and made Kivel’s pioneering work “the act like a man box” into a household term “the man box.”

Porter doesn’t mince words about Kivel. He calls him, “A genius.”

“Paul Kivel made a lifetime impression on me. He’s been instrumental in what has become my life’s work. I’m indebted to him, forever,” Porter says.

Paul Kivel and the Oakland Men’s Project gave birth to the conceptual underpinning of “the act like a man box,” giving birth to a central part of men’s work. Tony Porter’s decades of work with men has furthered these ideas and made “the man box,” a globally recognized phrase.

Through decades of hard work and perseverance by these men, the man box has become a powerful and universally understood call for change and growth. And the work continues.

You can reach Paul Kivel at

You can reach Tony Porter at A Call to Men

Mark Greene is the author of The Little #MeToo Book for Men.

Want to start a powerful conversation about masculinity with someone you live or work with? Give them a copy of Mark Greene’s The Little #MeToo Book for Men.

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Written by

Author THE LITTLE #METOO BOOK FOR MEN Writer/speaker on inclusion, masculinity. BBC, New York Times- http://remakingmanhood

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